The Secrets of Building a Great Perennial Garden

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

I have a friend who has a fantastic perennial border, and I get so many emails about how to build one, I asked if I could borrow some pictures of hers, and discuss it with her.


Early summer with full color of pink Echinacea, yellow Rudbeckia, and Asiatic Lilies: “Dot Com” and deep red “Blackout.” Shrubs for background bloom are Hydrangea “Nicco’s Blue” and white lavender.

Her top piece of advice is this: Make sure the soil and sun are good (full sun), and most important, start with the most popular border perennials to give you a “good framework of bloom all summer.”  Also, don’t skimp.  Put in several of the foolproof favorites, not just one of each.  She insists just a few of the right plants will give you a good show, and you can add any particular colors or heights as you refine your garden over the years.

Here is her list of “must-haves:”

  • Bearded or Siberian Iris for early dependable color.
  • Rudbeckia (or Black-eyed Susan) for bright, mid-summer bloom
  • Phlox for bloom almost all summer long
  • Echinacea for late summer color
  • Lilies, the easy way to add foolproof accents for midsummer.
  • Mums for fall. (They’re perennial, but my friend buys news ones most years.)

Beautiful Iris (Bearded or Siberian) are always available for early spring bloom. After bloom, they make a great low row of handsome foliage at the front of a border.  She grows her Echinacea from seed, and once they’re blooming, you have them forever. Rudbeckia can be annual or perennial, seed or plants. Phlox, the real backbone of most perennial color, means perennial plants, and there are hundreds to choose from each year, and they multiply quickly.

The same garden in later summer with the famous white phlox, “David,” and full bloom of Echinacea.

Bearded or Siberian Iris are easy to grow, and bring early color and season-long handsome
foliage to a border.

2 thoughts on “The Secrets of Building a Great Perennial Garden”

  1. These are so beautiful & offer great ideas. Our new/old home has a huge yard. & I want to take advantage of these ideas.

    Can’t wait!

  2. Hi Kate: Thanks for your email. Sounds like you’re into a great new project. With a big yard, you’ll have all kinds of various places to plant! Shady, sunny, and in between. Around trees, near the front or back door so you can enjoy the color and fragrance. Having a new house is a joy for a gardener….and here’s one tip I learned a few years back. Take a good look at what’s there from before you moved in. I once found a old rose I thought was just a weedy bramble. It had been cut down over and over, and was just a sprig when I decided to dig it up and toss it into the compost. When I dug, I found the original white plastic label on the root, and it said “New Dawn.”

    Fortunately, I had been looking for easy-care climbing roses for an arch I had bought. And here it was—one of the easiest of all to grow, and a foolproof big bloomer of large double pink roses. So I carefully planted the big old root back into the ground and watched. In just a few weeks, it was up and climbing onto the arch I had just installed beside it. Well, it covered the 9-foot arch in less than two years, and now gives us thousands of big roses every late spring…and some more in fall. And best of all, no black spot or other rose problems. This classic plant is fantastic. All I have to do is a little trimming after the big bloom, to train the new shoots into the arch.

    So look around. Some perennials, like peonies and oriental poppies last for over 100 years from old garden spots. You many have some real treasures in your new/old yard that have been cut down for years, and are now ready for a whole new life with your help.

    Send me pictures!

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